Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The waves are crashing on the beach. The Milky Way lights up the sky. The Moon is nowhere to be seen and darkness is surrounding us. Only the faint light of Mbuko’s torch casts a red hue on the slopes of the sand dunes to our left. To our right, the foam of the waves breaking on the beach leave a whitish hue. Mbuko is walking confidently through the soft sand analysing every track he comes across. He freezes as he shines his light on an oval shape sticking out which we follow with our gaze. A ghost crab is firmly grabbing a newly hatched loggerhead turtle. The tiny reptile, no more than 5-centimetre long (2 inches) is still alive. We silently observe how the crab runs to its hole in the sand dragging its bloody prey. We scan the surroundings in search for more loggerhead hatchlings. We spot another new-born, already trapped in a crab’s hole. This is the destiny of the vast majority of turtle hatchlings. If the spectacle of turtles laying eggs and hatchlings running to the ocean at night is magical, it is also a cruel scene, during which human intervention is uncaught for. We silently walk back to the desolated Thonga Beach Lodge where we started from, on foot, an hour earlier, the only lodge for miles along this protected beach of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the northernmost corner of South Africa.
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen
No, it is not related to the bison even though it looks an awful lot like it from where I stand in the middle of the Norwegian alpine tundra! Actually, it is more related to sheep and goats. The prehistoric-looking musk ox lives in the arctic regions of the world, and the only musk ox population in Norway roams the mountain slopes of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where I am hiking with my passionate guide Jo Even Kolstad on a musk ox safari.
Text: Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau All photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.
I follow our trail guide in his tracks while scanning the bushes surrounding me in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park in South Africa during an early morning bush walk. With three other wildlife enthusiasts, we are on a mission to spot some of the Big 5 and one of world’s most ancient mammals. Our safari guide seems to have picked up some tracks and signs of one of them… Under the rising sun, he snaps his fingers to signal us to stop walking, while pointing out three majestic white rhinos close to a small waterhole, only 200 metres away from our small group. For a few magical moments, the sound of the shutters of our cameras competes with the singing of the birds and the loud and ungracious honking of a couple of Nile Geese fiercely guarding their precious body of water. “Please, do not post your photos on social media with the exact location of any rhinoceros”, our field guide urges us with a solemn voice. Poachers are a very serious threat and all means are good for them to locate these prehistoric animals for their horns that sell for a fortune on the black market in order to feed the unsatiable Chinese and Vietnamese demand.
In this series of five articles, we feature the Big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos) – Africa’s most dangerous mammals to encounter on foot in the wild. Keep reading to learn more about rhinos…
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
The three lobes are very distinct. The leading edge of the main pad is flat. I orientate my flashlight to have a better view: the four toes are nicely rounded. There is no doubt: this footprint was left by a young male lion, only a few hours ago. I stand up, and look at my dome tent, barely two metres (6 feet) away. As the sun rises over the South African bush, the sky turns red orange, and the spoors are better lit. I switch off the torch and turn back to the soft sand: next to this track, I can identify some others, amongst which the ones of a lioness with their pointy leading edges lit by the few sun rays at dawn. The way the spoors are positioned tells me that this pride of lions was casually walking through the EcoTraining Camp in the Selati Game Reserve while I was half asleep. The alarm call of the troop of baboons, the sound of the herd of impalas running, the hardly palpable changes in the air and the scuffing in the sand that I heard during the night now all make sense. I do not know what I am amazed by the most: the proximity with these lions or the amount of practical knowledge I have gained during a week immersed in the wild living my most intense safari experience to this date…
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The cold water of the rain shower feels good: it has been a long drive with the very last stretch on a hilly rough dirt road in the burning sun before we eventually arrived at the lodge. As I am contemplating the view on the endless rolling hills in my favourite wilderness of South Africa from the shower, I am startled. I jump out onto the large outdoor private deck of our villa and with my hands – and everything else for that matter – still wet, I grab my binoculars: “rhinos!” I observe three of these prehistoric animals with their so coveted horns roaming the opposite green slope: a calf which I estimate no older than a few months, its mother and another white rhino that could be the calf’s older sibling. I feel extremely privileged to witness this scene as their numbers are dangerously plummeting and rhinos are on the verge of extinction, being poached to feed the insatiable Chinese market. For sure, the Isibindi Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge that sits at the edge of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi game reserve in Kwazulu Natal, is well named! If the head of Isibindi Africa Trails, Nunu Jobe, is as pertinently nicknamed, I hardly dare imagining what a walk in the African bush with the “Rhino Whisperer” holds for me…
Text: Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Sheltered from the winds by gigantic 540-million-year-old granite rocks, Boulders Beach is a local’s favourite for its low waves and slightly warmer water temperatures compared to the frigid yet popular Camps Bay and Clifton beaches in the heart of Cape Town. There is something more that attracts beach goers to this picturesque shoreline: it is the only place in the world where one can swim with South Africa’s most unexpected residents: jackass penguins!
Article updated on May 26, 2021 Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen (except if credited differently)
“Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” African proverb
Between the release of Disney’s The Lion King 25 years ago until its new photo-realistic computer-animated version of 2021 our planet has lost half of its wild lion population. Half…! If the main reason is habitat loss, it is not the only one why lions are in an alarming state. Other causes are ego for the hunters, greed for the farming, canned lion, and bone trade industries and maybe even worse, a lack of critical sense for some of us often with the best intentions.
I have been seating on a rock in the wind overlooking a small creek along the coast of Big Sur for a good half hour by now. If the landscape is stunning with the green and rocky cliffs falling into the Pacific Ocean, it is a raft of sea otters Keep traveling!
Réunion Island is not only a mountainous paradise. Bathed by the Indian Ocean, its warm waters are home to many species including endangered sea turtles. Dipping your head into the turquoise waters of the lagoon will make you feel like you plunge into a colorful aquarium. Get deeper and SCUBA dive to get up close and personal with its diverse marine life and especially its fascinating sea turtles.
Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen All photographs taken in the wild at Phinda Private Game Reserve
It is getting dark fast now the sun has set. A jackal scurries on the African soil that is still warm after a hot summer day. Crickets tune in forming a loud orchestra while bright stars start decorating the sky, one by one. Agile nightjars catch moths and other insects in the faint headlights of the open Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 safari truck in which we are seated. A woollen blanket keeps my legs warm while I tuck away my Canon camera after capturing some of Africa’s most emblematic animals. I am keeping an eye out for leopards, bush-babies, genets, and other nocturnal animals which eyes would lit up in the respectful infrared light that our tracker moves up and down the trees. Suddenly, my heart skips a beat: I see fire. Horrified and with all the disastrous wildfires of the Western Cape in mind I yelp: “The bush is burning!” Zandri our ranger answers calmly while steering the Land Cruiser towards the fire: “We will have to check it out then.” As we get closer, I am puzzled when I realize the fire is a clear path of flaming torches. We get out of the 4×4, and following the path, we are lead to a set table with candles on tablecloth surrounded by torches and bonfires. We are greeted by our smiling lodge manager who hands us a delicate refreshment and warm humid towels: “Welcome to your African bush dinner,” he says in a soft voice, clearly satisfied by his surprise effect. Around him, his friendly staff is manning a barbecue and bar area where locally sourced organic products are waiting to be savoured. It has been a day full of surprises since this morning when I opened my eyes before sunrise…
Article updated on February 11, 2022 Text and photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen All photographs taken in the wild in South Africa
For many, a safari is a dream trip, often a once in a lifetime experience. This is why it is important to select the type of safari and game park carefully to avoid any disappointment. South Africa is one of the best countries in the world to observe wildlife in beautiful and varied landscapes showcased in its two main types of parks: government-run parks and private game reserves. The offer is so vast and prices so varied that we have put together some thoughts in order to help you select the safari that is the most adapted to you.
Beyond attracting thousands of people daily to observe the marine life of the cold Atlantic Ocean and the colourful species of the warm Indian Ocean, the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town hosts a rehabilitation centre dedicated to endangered sea turtles.
Article updated on March 10, 2022 Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The north eastern corner of KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most remote destinations. Bordering Eswatini and Mozambique lies a hardly populated land with scenic yet less famous game parks and a unique ecosystem of four lakes flowing into the Indian Ocean where the Tsonga people have passed down their sustainable fishing traditions for over a thousand years. A land where world’s largest leaves can be found, with rare bird species and different types of mangrove trees. An ocean with bull and whale sharks, rock salmons, hippos and manta rays, wetting South Africa’s most stunning and desolated beaches, on which endangered sea turtles lay their eggs in season and turtle hatchlings run for their lives into the ocean. Join us to explore the best of Kosi Bay in five different adventures!
In South Africa Aliwal Shoal is famous for its shark dives amongst tiger, bull, ragged-tooth or oceanic blacktip sharks, often described as the experience of a lifetime. Sadly, cage diving is a bad practice that is heavily advertised for in all but a very few dive centres…
Cambodia is not as famous as Thailand when it comes to islands, paradisiac beaches, coral reefs and scuba diving. And this is all for the best, I am telling myself as I am writing this article from the fishing village M’Pai on the small island of Koh Rong Samloem in Southern Cambodia. Feet in the sand, Keep traveling!
I am running down a gentle slope before I am flying through a tunnel of green leafs and vines opening on the canopy. I am now gliding over treetops with a bird’s eye view on the rainforest that covers the surrounding mountains. Right in front of me appears my everlasting childhood dream: Keep traveling!
Costa Rica was the first country to realize the value of its biodiversity for the planet, and its economy has been converted into a green economy, promoting eco-tourism. As such, the butterfly garden of Monteverde aims at educating the public about the fascinating world of insects before admiring butterflies in four different gardens representing different climates.
Try to take this short quiz and discover some fascinating fact about creepy crawlers! Keep guessing!
The colourful roof of Panama’s Biomuseo designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry rises above the horizon of the Amador Causeway. Located along the entrance of the Panama Canal, the causeway used to be owned by the USA and was left barren after Panama regained its territory on 31 December 1999. Frank Gehry’s Panamanian wife took part in the discussions about what to do with the land, and soon crucial decisions were made to build the extravagant Biomuseo. Keep traveling!
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute displays the impressive biodiversity of Panama’s coastal ecosystems at Punta Culebra in Panama City. Knowledgable and multilingual guides led us through bunkers built during the First World War, now hosting exhibitions about Panama’s nature. Keep traveling!
The small town of Santa Elena has expanded massively since the Monteverde Cloud Forest gained popularity, and Costa Rica became the destination for biodiversity. Hesitating between exploring the very touristy Monteverde Cloud Forest, or the off the beaten path Keep traveling!